Sandra Collins, Julie Griffin & Michelle Osborne: Women Miners Recognised

Published: 30/10/2013

A WOMAN who fought legislation banning female employees from working in underground coal mines in Queensland has been honoured by the state’s mining industry at this morning’s Resources Award for Women. The awards were presented by Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley in front of more than 500 people at the Queensland Resources Council’s International Women’s Day breakfast in Brisbane.

QRC chief executive Michael Roche said women now make up 10% of non-traditional roles in Queensland’s mining industry up from 6% in 2006.

The overall award was won by Cement Australia’s East End Mine Manager Sandra Collins, the operator award was taken out by Macarthur Coal’s Coppabella Mine head heavy-equipment trainer and assessor Michelle Osborne, while BMA Crinum Mine electrician Julie Griffin won the trade award. The best company initiative went to Rio Tinto’s Clermont mine.

Overall award winner Sandra Collins had to fight legislation that prevented women from working in underground coal mines to begin her career in mining. She is currently only one of two women who have managed a mine in Queensland. Collins was the first woman to study mining engineering in Queensland and only the second in Australia. And, to her knowledge, she was the first female mining engineer to actually work in the mining industry in the country.

In 1985 she fought for, and gained, an exemption from NSW legislation that prevented women from working underground so that she could work and study for her underground-mine management certification. After a career that has spanned a number of countries and a variety of roles, including an executive position with Macquarie Bank, Collins has for the past three years managed Cement Australia’s East End Mine at Mount Larcom near Gladstone. The 3.5-million-tonne-per-annum mine supplies limestone, alumina and silica for the company’s Fisherman’s Landing cement plant.

Collins has also managed a very busy family life, helping her husband raise three sons and two stepdaughters, while also managing to make a significant contribution to the communities where she has lived and worked.

“I have achieved my career while raising my family, for which I am the breadwinner,” Collins said. “I succeeded without maternity leave, without childcare assistance and without part-time work, as these were not available at the time. “These are changes to working conditions I have helped to bring to the companies where I have worked,” she said.

Julie Griffin began her career in the mining industry with an electrical apprenticeship at Mt Isa Mines before moving to the Endeavor lead mine in Cobar and a number of non-mining roles. She says she finds the mining industry more interesting and challenging than ever and the rewards are endless, including financial security and the ability to support her son.

The trade-award winner has been active in encouraging other women to consider trade careers through involvement in the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance’s Focus on Women workshop, appearing in promotional videos, a television commercial and mentoring apprentices.
“Being an electrician for approximately 15 years has had its challenges. I always let females know that it is not easy, but it is a challenging and achievable path to take.” “I have tapped away slowly at changing peoples’ perceptions of females in a male-dominated industry. I consider myself a role model for young girls and ladies who would like to enter a trade,” Griffin said.

Operator-winner Michelle Osborne was the first ever female haul-truck driver at the Coppabella mine. After a successful career as an exercise physiologist and a year living and working in Canada, she went looking for a change and in April 2006 was employed by Peter Champion Mining at Macarthur Coal’s Coppabella coal mine site office in Central Queensland.

When Macarthur Coal began owner-operator responsibilities in December 2006, Osborne requested a move to operate haul trucks, which was her original goal. She is now the head trainer and assessor for heavy vehicles, a member of the mines rescue team and contact officer where she acts as mediator when issues between employees arise.

Osborne was the first female employed by Macarthur Coal in the production department, was the first and remains the only female trainer-assessor employed by Macarthur Coal, and is one of only three women in the coal industry’s mine-rescue teams. “I believe I show my female colleagues that we can be active, well-respected participants in all facets of the mining industry, not merely truck drivers,” she said.

The Clermont mine took out the Best Company Initiative award for its strategy when planning the Central Queensland operation. RTCA’s recruitment plan included specifically targeting females, including indigenous females in its advertising campaigns. The mine set targets at each level of the business to ensure progress in female participation across the organisation. Females currently make up 27.5% of the mine’s workforce, compared to an industry average of 11.3%. Additionally, of the women working at Clermont Mine, more than 8% are indigenous.

The mine offers a choice of fly-in, fly-out arrangements or provides additional financial benefits if workers choose to live in Clermont. Female workers have taken up both options. The Clermont Mine village was designed with women in mind, placing females in accommodation near other women and providing each female worker with a buddy when they first start. It is a clean and security-focused village.

Category winners

Overall award
Winner: Sandra Collins, Cement Australia, East End mine manager, Mount Larcom
Runners up: Emma Yeoman, Santos senior completions engineer, Brisbane
Jennifer Mackenzie, BMA Saraji Mine, manager coal-handling and preparation plant, Central Queensland

Operator/Trade award
Operator: Michelle Osborne, Macarthur Coal Coppabella Mine, head trainer-assessor heavy equipment, Central Queensland
Trade: Julie Griffin, BMA Crinum Mine, electrical maintenance planner, Central Queensland
Encouragement award: Amber Bates

Junior award
Winner: Elizabeth Bridgeman, Moranbah State High School
Runner up: Rebecca Kerr, Moranbah State High School

Best Company Initiative award
Winner: Rio Tinto Clermont Mine
Highly commended: Thiess, Cement Australia